Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Senator Fifty Versus Senator Sixty

It would seem that the 50th Democratic vote in the Senate -- and I don't know who exactly that is, probably some Southerner -- would have much to gain by the de-emphasis of the filibuster. If legislation needed only 50 votes to pass the Senate, people designing stimulus bills and health care plans and energy legislation would take that into account. They wouldn't have to sell their bill to Ben Nelson, and they'd write more ambitious things. Figuring out some way to tailor bills to Senator Fifty, or else buy Senator Fifty's vote with a variety of shiny trinkets, would be the goal. You can see how Senator Fifty might be quite pleased with this dynamic.

But I haven't seen any evidence that potential Senator Fifties are acting on these incentives. You don't see, say, Bob Casey or Mark Pryor or Mary Landrieu or Kay Hagan dissing on the filibuster and calling out Ben Nelson for obstructionism. And I don't really know why. Obviously, there are going to be a number of people jockeying to be Senator Fifty, but in a session where people are trying to move lots of historic legislation, the stock of rewards is probably large enough that everybody in the 45-55 range has a reasonable shot at some share of the goodies. So why is everybody letting Ben Nelson have all the fun?

5 comments:

Punning Pundit said...

Great point. I've been thinking a lot about how this is the time to amend the filibuster (or get rid of it!). If cloture was a 55 vote thing, rather than a 60 vote thing, we'd get much better legislation. And, of course, if it was a simple 51 member thing, we could get a _lot_ more done...

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

If you assume that Specter (D) is actually a fairly mainline Democrat, and that all the 2008 winners are in the left third of the Senate, that makes Senator fifty Claire McCaskill, Byron Dorgan, or Max Baucus. That's a big improvement over Bayh/Landrieu/Ben Nelson.

Stephen said...

Getting rid of the filibuster would mean changing something, specifically, it would be taking away one of their privileges. Even the crazy GOP contingent is reluctant to make such a move; Harry Reid's caucus will protect the Senate's traditions and privileges above all else.

ikl said...

I don't think that you are reading the situtation right. Reducing the number of votes needed from 60 to 51 makes every one of the 60 Democrats less crucial because the leadership / bill sponsors / White House has more options to cut a deal with someone else. So unfortunately, I don't think that getting rid of the fillibuster would benefit any of the centrist Dems in particular. Any number of them might end up being the 51st vote, but (a) this is difficult to predict in advance and (b) they can already hold out now for goodies if they really want to on any particular bill.

So I'm not really optimistic on this.

Neil Sinhababu said...

the leadership / bill sponsors / White House has more options to cut a deal with someone else.

That might be true at other times. But the current dynamic is that the GOP is voting as a bloc, minus perhaps Snowe. Vote 60 is going to be Nelson or Snowe and never you. If those two are against the bill, your threats to vote against cloture are pointless because the bill is dead anyway. And you can't really ask to be paid a ransom as well, since you have as much right as some 12 other moderate Dems and the whole thing will collapse if each of them hold out for a ransom too.